Today's a pagan day, a day for fires, flowers, dancing -- we are opening the gates to the heat of summer and everything that comes with it. As such, I wanted to give a shout out to the WaterFires of Providence, Rhode Island. The whole family was in town for a late Easter celebration and we went downtown on an unseasonably warm Saturday night to check it out.
It is just as it sounds, a simple spectacle of wood bonfires burning in metal cauldrons perched just above the water of the joined rivers of downtown Providence. Music is played. Gazing crowds gather quietly on the banks. It's a return to a more primitive form of entertainment, and a reassurance that us humans, we pretty much dig on the same stuff. We can't resist sitting in a big circle and staring at a fire. It's our DNA, it's who we are.
Then this May Day morning I listened to Leonard Cohen on "Fresh Air." You know I kind of forgot about him, but I went through a serious LC phase in college, and hearing him brought back the memory of finishing the first semester of sophomore year and retreating back to my housing project of a dorm room, opening up all my windows, blaring "New Skin for the Old Ceremony" at a level only 19-year-olds can tolerate, and attempting to take a nap. Do you think I was trying to telegraph that I was sad? Holy mackerel. It was the last day my crew of friends would be together before we sprinkled ourselves around the globe for the next six months. Two of my best friends came in, pulled me out from under my comforter, and cajoled me into accompanying them downtown to pass out flyers for some show.
The verve and panache with which they passed out these flyers cannot be described with words -- all I can say is that I have been walking the sidewalks of New York City for ten years now and I have never seen anything like it before or since. You couldn't not take a flyer. It was a gorgeous display of enthusiasm, the kind of thing that makes you believe that having a great time is always an option.
God knows, sometimes you just have to put the Cohen away and keep to the sunnier side of things. But today's for the natural, for the beautiful, for everything and everybody exactly the way it is. As Buddhist nun Pema Chodron writes, "Life does continually go up and down. People and situations are unpredictable and so is everything else. Everybody knows the pain of getting what we don't want: saints, sinners, winners, losers. I feel gratitude that someone saw the truth and pointed out that we don't suffer this kind of pain because our personal inability to get things right...We no longer believe that there are people who have managed to avoid uncertainty."
Did you know that Leonard Cohen lived at a Zen Monastery for five years? Yeah, neither did I.
Tonight I crack open the ol' compact disc collection in search of his old albums, and play them loud, listen to this aging Pan, savoring my dip into the lows with the knowledge that it will pass on like all things. I leave you with an excerpt from Cohen's poem, "The Street."
I know the burden’s heavy
As you bear it through the night
The guru says it’s empty
But that doesn’t mean it’s light
From The Book of Longing, 2006. You can hear Cohen recite this and other poems, during his interview with Terry Gross here.